The minute I saw a photo of The Wave in Arizona I was instantly dying to go. I asked my mom if she would like to go with the kids and me to The Wave over spring break and she quickly said yes. True story – she actually thought the wave was a water park and she still said yes! My mom rocks! So I started planning, and quickly found out that hiking the Wave Arizona required a permit and winning the Wave lottery first. It’s a complicated, competitive process. Here’s what we did to win the Wave lottery so you can make it happen too.
What is The Wave in Arizona
The Wave is an incredible sandstone formation in the Coyote Buttes North area of the larger 112,500-acre Paria Canyon – Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness Area. It looks like a wave and has ridges that accentuate the wavy look. It is stunningly beautiful in photos and real life. To protect this area, it is part of the Coyote Buttes permit system with only 40 permits granted daily.
The Wave is one of the best hikes and the most photographed in the United States. More than 160,000 people try to get permits in a year and 4.5% of those people are successful. It’s the luck of the draw but there are ways to improve your chances included here. Don’t miss out on this bucket list hike.
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Best Time of Year for Hiking the Wave
Ideally, you want to hike the Wave in Spring or Fall. Summer temperatures, June through August, can make it unbearable and dangerous. Winter storms bring rain that also make it more difficult. We went at the beginning of April. September through November is also a great time.
The Wave Lottery Online Permit Process
The Wave is part of the Coyote Buttes North permit area. 40 permits are issued for hiking the Wave per day. 20 of the permits are awarded on the online lottery system and 20 permits are issued in a walk-in lottery draw. Here is the information for the online Coyote Buttes North permit lottery system.
- Each person can only submit one application per month. The application allows you to choose 3 dates in that month.
- The application submitted can be for a group size up to 6 people, including children..
- The cost of the application is $9 each time you apply and non-refundable. Additionally, there is a recreation fee for each person or dog on the Wave permit of $7 each.
- You may enter the Wave lottery any day during the month for the month that is 4 months ahead. Example, from July 1-31, you may enter the lottery for dates in November. It’s best to enter at the end of the month to see which days are least competitive. Select 3 dates where you have the best shot.
- The drawing is at 9am MDT on the first of the month for the month that is 4 months ahead. Example, the drawing on August 1 at 9am MDT is for the permits in November.
The Wave Lottery Walk-In Permit Process
The in person Lottery is one day in advance at the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument Visitor Center in Kanab, UT. To verify the most up to date information, before you go, check the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) website here.
One person in your group needs to act as the group leader. The lottery opens at 8am to group leaders. The group leader will need to bring a pen, license plate number and emergency contact information to fill out the application. At 8:30am, they start accepting applications and at 9am the lottery starts.
If you have a large party, it may lower your chances of getting a permit. If there are 2 permits left and they call your group of 6, you will have to choose which 2 people are going and which 4 are doing something else. We thankfully got 4 permits at the beginning.
The safety orientation for permit winners starts right after the drawing is over. They scare the life out of you during the briefing which is probably a good thing so people are extra safe.
What We Did to Win the Wave Lottery
- When we wanted to go, the wave lottery online four months in advance had already happened so it was not an option. I highly recommend trying ahead to see if you get lucky with an online permit.
- We showed up for the walk-in Wave Lottery in Kanab on Friday morning. so we had a chance to win Saturday, Sunday or Monday. We figured our odds were much better, when they were doing the drawing for three days instead of one.
- If you do choose to go Monday – Thursday, make plans to stick close by so you can enter the walk-in lottery multiple times if necessary.
- Holiday weekends are more competitive for permits even though more days are drawn at one time. You are better off shooting for a regular weekend.
- Getting the wave lottery permit during December and the hottest months of summer is easier but weather could be a serious issue making you cancel your plans.
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Things to Know Before Hiking the Wave
- Hiking the Wave is more difficult than you expect. It’s not a long hike at 5.2 miles round trip with 400 feet of elevation gain, but the terrain is uneven and it is a huge soft sand workout. As fast as you empty your shoes of sand, they fill right back up.
- Temperature will be a factor. When we started the hike at 6am at the Wire Pass Trailhead, it was in the low 40ºs and by the time we were done it was in the 80ºs. Many people experience heat above the 90ºs. Summer goes over 100º. The last mile of the hike, we looked like the walking dead.
- There are no services in the area – you will be in the desert, completely alone with the exception of possibly running into a few other hikers. You need to bring an adequate water supply (3-4 liters per person), snacks and a GPS.
- No one is coming to save you. Getting to the Wave is easy because you can see the notch in the mountain and keep heading toward it. Getting back is impossible because everything looks the same. People have died on this hike by being unprepared, getting disoriented, getting lost, and being overcome by the heat. We got off course on the way back and thankfully were able to use our GPS tracker to retrace our path back.
- Only take kids that are used to hiking. Our kids were 11 and 15 when we went and they were awesome.
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Hiking The Wave Wait Time – Best Things to Do
If you didn’t get permits through The Wave Lottery online, chances are you’ll be waiting for a few days in Kanab to try to get a walk-in permit at the in-person Wave Lottery. The good news is that this area is filled to the brim with cool things to do. You should definitely take advantage of other hikes and beautiful sights. Here are the places we visited during our wait.
Zion National Park is the Perfect Warm Up for Hiking the Wave
Only 30 minutes away, Zion National Park his one of our favorites. Hike the Narrows, brave people head to Angel’s Landing, or just drive through and stop at the various viewpoints. You will love Zion!!
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Bryce Canyon National Park
Right near Zion National Park is Bryce Canyon National Park. Filled with interesting mountain spires called hoodoos, you can hike down into the canyon. Make sure you have time to see these 2 national parks because they are within a 1.5 hour drive from the permit office where they hold the Wave lottery.
Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park is Close to the Wave Lottery
My kids are always up for playing in sand dunes and this state park, less than 30 minutes away from Kanab, is a great stop. You can drive off road vehicles, camp here or just run around for a few hours.
Page, Arizona – Horseshoe Bend, Antelope Canyon & Lake Powell
While we were waiting to hike the Wave, we also drove 1 hour 15 minutes in the opposite direction to get to Page Arizona. There is so much to do here. From taking an Antelope Canyon tour, to hanging out at Horseshoe Bend to boating at Lake Powell. We actually drove from here on the morning of our hike. It took approximately 1.5 hours to get to House Rock Valley Road and the Wire Pass Trailhead.
Where to Stay for Hiking the Wave
- Red Canyon Cabins – Clean, new comfy cabins in Kanab
- Best Friends Roadhouse and Mercantile – a stylish spot in Kanab that caters to you and your furry friends.
- La Quinta by Wyndham Kanab – Clean, relatively new hotel that’s conveniently located.
- Zion Mountain Ranch – We stayed here in a great 2 bedroom cabin. It’s conveniently located between Zion and Bryce.
- Under Canvas Zion – A truly glamorous camping (glamping) experience with tents that have super comfy beds and windows to view the stars.
- Antelope Canyon & Horseshoe Bend Airbnb – a 2 bedroom house to yourself that’s 5 minutes from the best sights
You can plan an entire vacation around a trip to the Wave. While the Wave Lottery is somewhat complicated, it is located in the most perfect place to spend some time. When you finally go hiking to the wave, it will be the highlight of your trip. Don’t let the the wave lottery keep you from attempting to do this trip. You can get a permit if you are persistent and time your trip to give yourself an advantage.
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